OU Medicine doctor addresses theories that achieving ‘herd immunity’ is a reason to skip wearing masks


OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Oklahoma, nearing 1,000 new cases in a 24-hour period Tuesday, some believe “herd immunity” is the solution.

Top OU Medicine official Dr. Dale Bratzler has been trying to put this theory in check for months now.

“I became very frustrated when I started seeing these notes about people saying we just need to let this virus spread, don’t wear a mask,” he said.

The argument he’s trying to dispel is that once enough people develop immunity to COVID-19, it won’t continue to spread, and the best way to accomplish this quickly is for people not to wear a mask.

“I’ve actually seen physicians and others argue against wearing masks because they think it delays us getting to herd immunity,” Bratzler said.

So he crunched the numbers to see just what this would mean for Oklahoma.

Finding the right number of people who would need to be immune to this new virus is difficult right now. When it comes to the measles, an incredibly contagious disease, more than 90 percent of the population would need to be immune.

“COVID-19, nobody knows right now, but most people suggest that it’s at least 70-percent of the population would have to be infected with the virus or immune before you would achieve herd immunity,” Bratzler said.

That’s about 2.8 million people of the approximately four million people in the state.

Based on the current mortality rate which the CDC estimates is 0.65-percent, that would mean 18,200 Oklahomans would die.

“So it’s just not an acceptable argument that let’s just let the virus spread in the population unmitigated because to try to get to herd immunity,” he said. “Because a lot of people will die in the process.”

A possible vaccine is going through clinical trials, and one of the labs running them is the Lynn Health Science Institute in Oklahoma City. The primary investigator at the clinic, Dr. Carl Griffin, agrees that waiting for herd immunity is unrealistic.

“We’ve heard some people talk about herd immunity, where you want 60 percent of the population to get it, but that’s going to take several decades to occur. We don’t want to be going through this for several decades,” Griffin said.

What’s more, because it’s still unknown whether someone can get sick from the virus twice – depending on factors like how long antibodies last in the body – natural herd immunity may not be possible anyway.

“That’s one thing we don’t know for sure, how long are you immune,” Bratzler said.

That’s why health experts continue to press people to wear masks while in public as much as possible

“In the absence of a vaccine, wearing a mask, physical distancing are the two most important and most effective interventions we have available to prevent spreading the disease,” Bratzler said.

Continued Coronavirus Coverage

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